At age 62, Tony Pingitore retired from his job as master electrician, a career he held for 50 years. Today, however, he still keeps himself busy.
“I’m still working anyway, and I’m working at my own pace,” he says.
Originally from Wisconsin, Pingitore had visited Buena Vista many times previously. After his good friends Bill and Cheryl Mehaffey came out and started Bongo Billy’s off the highway, he decided to follow along.
Long before moving to Buena Vista, Pingitore served in the Navy from 1959 to 1964.
“The Navy was a big part of my life. I’m still a Navy man. I love it,” he says.
“I had a really great tour, and I probably should have stayed in for 20 (years). I was out to sea a lot, but once you do that you always want to go back. Most of the guys that I know that are my age now, they all wish they could do it all over again. They miss the sea.”
If he ever left the mountains, he adds, he’d miss them, too.
As an operations specialist, Pingitore was tasked with keeping the ship safe by tracking and monitoring surface and air contacts in the Combat Information Center.
“We track every ship and every contact from like 25 miles away,” he says. “We track them every minute, and we can follow them. We know how fast they’re going, which way their course is relative to our own.”
They would then report to the bridge all the information they gathered on that contact.
To this day, the Navy holds a special place in his heart.
“When I got out of the Navy, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of choices,” he says. “I saw an ad in the paper for city firefighter, so I put in for that and they accepted. I was a firefighter for 2 years. We had some pretty bad fires during that time.”
Pingitore had a grandfather who worked as a police officer and was unfortunately killed on the job during a gunfight. Seeing Pingitore working a similarly dangerous job did not sit well with his family, and they soon talked him into leaving it.
“I loved that job, but I listened to them,” Pingitore says. “But you know what? I’ve loved every job I’ve ever had. From delivering newspapers to the Navy to firefighter and then electrician. Electrician’s probably just as dangerous as being a firefighter.”
Thus began Pingitore’s 50 years as an electrician with IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), an international union of at least a million men.
“As far as all the building trades, I think it’s probably if not the best, then one of the best trades to get into, especially for young guys today,” he says. “You can get a pretty good job. The pay is relative, maybe not here in the valley but more in the cities where you have more work and bigger jobs.”
He worked with many power plants and construction companies around the Chicago area, as well as automobile manufacturing and printing press installation. He worked for a number of different companies, his first one for 30 years.
“I made a good living on it and it’s a good interesting trade, ever changing,” he says. “Everything changes in it all the time, new technology coming out.
“I could look back on some of the projects that I worked on, and I could drive by those buildings and say I built that. That’s what most of the guys get out of construction. No matter what we did in there, we built it, with our hands – and our heads. To me, it was more rewarding than sitting behind a desk.”
In August 2001, he moved to a house in Buena Vista, relocating to north of town in 2008. By March 2002, he was officially retired but not quite ready to settle down.
“I was already living here, at that point, for about 5 or 6 years,” he says. “Every time I looked out the window, I thought I’d like to have a deck seeing over these trees. One day, I picked my shovel up and started shoveling shingles off the roof and tearing it down.”
Adding a second-story deck wouldn’t be his last house project. He put in new doors and new trim. He resealed the walls and repainted them from purple to yellow to brighten the interior. He fixed up the exterior of the house and the garage, using 26 gallons of stain, and added a brick walkway between the driveway and the house.
All of this, he did by himself.
He also had neighbors help him set up the awning on his second-story deck.
“Just a lot of cosmetic work to bring it back to life again. It’s a great house. I knew when I walked in it that it had great bones,” Pingitore says.
For his most recent project, he’s closing in a lean-to the original owners had built against the back of the garage.
When not keeping busy with his house, he tries to stay fit by hiking, biking or skiing. “I came out here to be more physically fit,” he says. “My age is kind of pulling me down, a lot of skeletal problems going on. I can’t move like I used to. But I still hike, and I have a whole garage full of bikes.”
Back in Wisconsin, Pingitore took part in Nordic skiing for 25 years, as well as triathlons. He brought with him a collection of trophies and medals from those days, as well as the desire to keep at his favorite hobbies and keep going day by day.